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Can a Dentist Diagnose Sleep Apnea? in Surrey

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Not everyone is a morning person, but you’re even less likely to be a morning person if you’re not getting a restful sleep at night. Sleep apnea is one potential reason for not sleeping as well as you should. But where do you turn for help with sleep apnea? Your dentist can’t technically diagnose sleep apnea, but they may be able to provide you with treatments that bring symptom relief.

Depending on the cause of your sleep apnea—obstructive sleep apnea versus central sleep apnea—your dentist may be able to provide treatment options. Mouth guards or tongue-retaining devices may be suitable options for symptom relief.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is more than just loud snoring. It’s a medical condition where breathing stops and starts repeatedly throughout the night. This sleep problem is a common ailment that can significantly impact one’s quality of life and health.

Types of Sleep Apnea

There are 3 main types of sleep apnea, each with its unique challenges:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): OSA is the most common type, where throat muscles relax excessively, blocking the airway during sleep.
  • Central sleep apnea (CSA): CSA is less common and occurs when the brain fails to send the right signals to muscles controlling breathing.
  • Complex or treatment-emergent sleep apnea: Complex sleep apnea combines obstructive and central sleep apnea. It often begins as OSA, then treatment with a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine causes CSA to develop.

Oral Health & Sleep Apnea

Your dentist’s primary role is typically making sure that your smile is bright and your gums are healthy. But they can also support your health in other ways. Dentists have a unique vantage point to identify signs of sleep apnea. Oral signs, like grinding teeth (bruxism), pain in jaw joints, or sore and raw spots from chewing on cheeks, can indicate sleep disorders.

Dentists can look for these signs during routine check-ups and can use them as cues to dig deeper into your sleep health.

The Dental Detective Work

Dentists use various tools and techniques to catch sleep apnea in its early stages. These include examining the structure of your mouth and throat, checking for worn-down teeth, and discussing symptoms you might not even realize are connected to sleep apnea. Some forward-thinking dental practices even employ specialized devices that track your breathing patterns while you sleep.

Why Catching Z’s Matters

Ignoring sleep apnea doesn’t just lead to grogginess—it can ramp up the risk for more severe health problems like hypertension, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Early detection and treatment can significantly improve your quality of life.

A Team Effort

Treating sleep apnea is akin to a relay race—success requires teamwork. Your dentist will likely refer you to a sleep specialist for a comprehensive assessment once they suspect sleep apnea. This collaborative approach helps you get a tailored treatment plan for your needs.

Dental Treatments for Sleep Apnea

There are 2 primary ways that a dentist can help with sleep apnea treatments:

Mandibular Advancement Device

A mandibular advancement device (MAD) is a commonly used oral appliance for treating sleep apnea. The MAD gently pushes the lower jaw (mandible) and tongue slightly forward. This forward movement keeps the airway open during sleep by preventing the soft tissue in the back of the throat from collapsing and obstructing the airway.

After the initial fitting, the dentist may make minor adjustments to the device to optimize its effectiveness and comfort. The goal is to find the perfect balance where the airway remains open without causing discomfort. Then, follow-up visits are crucial for assessing the device’s fit, its impact on the individual’s symptoms, and any potential changes in dental health. Adjustments might be necessary as the individual’s condition improves or changes.

Tongue-Retaining Device

A tongue-retaining device (TRD) is another oral appliance used by dentists to treat sleep apnea, especially in patients for whom mandibular advancement devices may not be suitable. Like a MAD, a TRD is often custom-fitted to the individual patient. The dentist takes moulds of the teeth and mouth for a comfortable fit.

The TRD works by holding the tongue forward using a suction effect. This prevents the tongue from falling back into the throat and blocking the airway during sleep, a common cause of obstructed breathing in sleep apnea patients.

Discuss the Next Steps with Your Dentist

The connection between oral health and sleep apnea beautifully illustrates the holistic nature of health care. Dentists play a pivotal role in maintaining our smiles and safeguarding our sleep. Remember, a visit to the dentist can be about more than just your teeth—it’s an investment in your overall well-being.It’s time to call your dentist if you’re experiencing any symptoms or if it’s been a while since your last dental visit. Call our team at Genesis Dental today to book your next appointment.

Written by Dr. Sipra Gohel

Known to her patients as Dr. G, Dr. Sipra Gohel is a New York University-trained dentist who brings her many years of experience to our practice.
Dr. G’s career started while being raised in Houston, Texas, where she first explored the field of dentistry as a dental assistant. Hard work and her broad experience led to an acceptance at the New York University College of Dentistry, one of North America’s most fast-paced and prestigious dental colleges.
Upon completing her degree, Dr. G pursued her residency in general dentistry at Brooklyn Hospital. She subsequently spent the next 5 years in New York working in the boroughs of the Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan. She credits these busy settings and tremendously diverse spectrum of patients and their related dental care with providing her with the experience to become the dentist she is today.

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